“The water is too warm!”
Even as I said the words, I was fully aware that my first-world complaint was ridiculous. It was a scorching day at Cayo Jutias, and I ran into the water hoping for some chilling relief. Instead, it felt like hopping into a tub of slightly warm bathwater. Not exactly the ice cold temperature my sunburned skin was hoping for.
Still, I had to appreciate being in such a gorgeous setting. This was one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever visited, and there were few other humans around. As beaches go, I couldn’t imagine it getting much better than this.
Lonely Planet refers to Cayo Jutias as Cuba’s “most discovered ‘undiscovered’ beach,” and that’s an apt description. Plenty of visitors do make their way here, since you can take a two-hour shared cab ride directly from the tourist town of Viñales. But because the peninsula is so long (3 km) and has so many twists and turns, huge portions of the beach feel remote and hidden.
The dead branches and trees that cover the shore also add to the solitude. Because of all the brush, you can’t really walk along the beach here – instead, you have to follow a trail through the mangrove forest in the middle of the island, and then pop out to the water when you find a suitable spot. It’s pretty easily to find solitude.
This was our view from the water. You might notice the towels hanging in the distance. There were two people tucked back behind those trees. They were the only humans we saw while we were swimming on this part of the beach:
Rats and starfish abound
Cayo Jutias is named after the tree rats that can be found in the forest. I didn’t actually see any of the rats. I’m guessing during the heat of the day they keep a low profile.
But the big wildlife attraction here is the collection of hundreds of starfish at the far end of the peninsula. You can get there by taking a boat ride for $15 CUC (equal to $15 USD) or by hiking the trail through the trees in the middle of the island.
We started hiking that way before realizing that the mosquitoes in that swampy area were unbearable, even with repeated sprayings of repellent. Eventually, a boat ride proved to be the wiser option. Behold the giant starfish!
How to visit Cayo Jutias
Sharing a cab from Viñales will set you back about $20 per person. Our driver crammed seven travelers into his 1948 DeSoto Deluxe. It was sweet riding in such an old vehicle, but it was also a challenge. None of the instruments on the dashboard worked, the seats were small and uncomfortable, and the windshield was cracked. But hey, in Cuba, you just roll with the punches. The ride was two and a half hours through backroads and small towns.
The view from behind the cracked glass:
Taxi drivers typically give you 4-6 hours at the beach, and then they show up to take you back home. At Cayo Jutias, there are a couple of restaurants and snack bars and a bathroom at the entrance, but that’s it. Once you start walking in either direction, you’re on your own. Make sure to pick up a $2 ham and cheese sandwich and plenty of water at the snack bar to get you through the day.
The beach extends in both directions from the arrival point, so you can head either way. If you want to see the starfish and get away from the crowds, walk to the left when you arrive at the beach. That leads to the end of the peninsula.
Magical floating ability at Cayo Jutias
The Gulf of Mexico waters may be extremely warm at Cayo Jutias, but otherwise everything about the place is perfect. You can walk almost 50 yards out into the water and still touch the bottom, because the slope of the beach is so gradual. Waves were virtually nonexistent on the calm summer day I visited.
And, for the first time ever, I was able to float on my back! This is something I always struggled with even when learning to swim as a kid. For some reason, I have never been buoyant on my back, and neither has my travel partner. But the warm, salty waters here kept both of us afloat. It was the ultimate relaxation activity to lie motionless atop the water for minutes at a time.
In the end, the soothing waters, the floating, the starfish, and the solitude of Cayo Jutias were well worth the uncomfortable taxi ride. It was one of my favorite activities in Cuba.